Kelvin’s Rehabilitation Fund
FNB Norwood
  Acc No:
627 763 173 75
  Branch Code:
250 655

A Young Adventurer​

Kelvin was born with an adventurous spirit that intensified with time. He often chose not to conform, didn’t follow the rules and has gone through life independently forging his own path, much to the delight and, sometimes disbelief of both of his parents, Douglas and Leigh.

Leigh reflects on her son’s spirit and achievements in a manner only a parent – as witness to their entire lives – can do.

“As a young child he started playing cricket. I’d come home from work and the parents would gather on the road, wine in hand, and the kids would play cricket until the sun went down and the wine ran out. He proved to be very good and went on to play Gauteng Junior cricket for 4 years.

Kelvin has always been incredibly competitive. He played to win, always. And if he didn’t win he was furious, with the team and with himself for not excelling. He pushed himself to do better, to be better and to achieve more.

In high school his passion for cricket waned and golf became his new passion. At 16 he was playing off a 5. Kelvin would play golf come rain, hail or snow. Every weekend he was on the course playing 18, and sometimes 36 holes. This was his passion. He went on to play 1st team Golf for his school.

And as quickly as golf became his passion, his focus swiftly turned to squash, where he made it to the 1st team squash for his school as well as playing league. His sporting interests started taking on tennis, hockey, table tennis, snooker and the list goes on. Kelvin has always been a keen and gifted sportsman. It didn’t matter what sport he tried his hand at, he possessed a natural talent and succeeded without much effort.

And then paragliding came along and he was sold, it was his life, his passion, his reason for waking each day. Kelvin, as a little boy would spend weekends on the ridge with his father, watching his father fly, helping lay out gliders, his little face brightened with excitement and wonder, an ardor slowly being nurtured. He would watch the pilots soar with the eagles and rush to tell me, his face bright with excitement. He loved the sport, and at the age of 16 he had his first lesson and that was to become the way he spent all his leisure time. He wanted to fly, he wanted to compete, he wanted to prove himself.”

In true Kelvin fashion, he proved to be a very competent and capable pilot, competing in many competitions, and winning novice class in 2015, he is also the youngest pilot in SA to have flown an amazing 306km cross country.

“The only direction Kelvin saw was up in the clouds, floating above the ground, being carried by the thermals, flying with the eagles and embracing the freedom of the open skies”

“Fortunately, Kelvin was strong academically and never really had to put much effort into succeeding.  He spent most of his school days causing havoc in class, chirping teachers and being a carefree, fun loving teenager, with a steely grit and determination to succeed in paragliding, that delighted and scared me as his mother.

He matriculated and went on to Wits University to further his studies. Kelvin and I had many debates about what field of study he should focus on, and, what he wanted to do with his future. He wanted flying to be his future, whereas I wanted him to forge ahead with tertiary studies.  Eventually, I won those debates and he registered for a BA degree, with my hope that in the 3 years it would take him to graduate, he would have more direction for his future career. Admittingly, my plan failed. The only direction Kelvin saw was up in the clouds, floating above the ground, being carried by the thermals, flying with the eagles and embracing the freedom of the open skies.” says Leigh.

Mentor and friend, Leon Viljoen, reflects on Kelvin’s paragliding achievements.

“Kelvin het op ‘n jong ouderdom baie belangstelling getoon in vlieg. Terwyl hy by Dunnotter help met ‘winching’, begin Kelvin leer vlieg onder Hendrik se toesig.

Op n vlug vanaf Eagles Nest, toe ek naby wigwam kom, sien ek ‘n rooi glider onder my in ‘n ligte thermal. Op daardie stadium het ons mekaar nog nie goed geken nie. Ek kon wel sien die outjie kan nogal n thermal core.

Later sluit hy onder my mentorskap aan by Hartebeespoort dam. Die wakende oog wat Tracey hou oor die mense onder die mentorskap program en Kelvin se hardkoppigheid lei tot stampe en stote tot Kelvin sy Sport lisensie kry en die mentorskap program kan verlaat. Onder my mentorskap het ek gou gesien hy het baie potensiaal en ons dink dieselfde. Vinnig raak ons ”Big Buddies” en hy is soos my seun.

Die mannetjie verstaan van vlieg en sy belangstelling is groot.

Nog nie eers 19 jaar oud nie en hy het al seker by die dertig 100km vlugte en so paar 250km vlugte.

In Copperton kry hy reg wat baie ‘pilots’ al vir jare probeer, om meer as 300km te vlieg. Hy word die eerste 19 jarige Suid Afrikaner wat 306km ver vlieg. Hy is nou die enigste van 5 in SA wat dit gedoen het.”

A Life-Changing Accident

On 29 June 2018, Kelvin Van Baalen was paragliding in a competition in Barberton, in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa, one of many competitions he has participated in, in the past. This, however, was the one that was going to change his life forever. On his last flight, the conditions weren’t good, he scratched around a bit to try find a thermal and gain height. He was coming in to land, saw the power lines at the very last minute, turned his wing too hard and spun straight into the lines. He felt a power surge and then was knocked unconscious. He awoke to find himself engulfed in flames.

“But his incredible will to live kicked in. He rolled around on the grass to put the flames out and climbed a tree to escape the veld fire”

Kelvin remembers what happened to him and tears well up in his eyes when he whispers to his mother, Leigh van Baalen, “mom, I thought I was going to die”. But his incredible will to live kicked in. He rolled around on the grass to put the flames out and climbed a tree to escape the veld fire, which he had started. This is where his father, Douglas Van Baalen, found him, naked, burnt, traumatised, and in shock – clinging to a branch.

A fellow paraglider saw what happened and was able to drop a location pin so Kelvin could be found. His father carried his burnt, dying son to the ambulance, where he was airlifted to the Milpark hospital, burns unit. The call his mom received, “Leigh, there’s been an accident, Kel has flown into power lines and isn’t moving,” is a call that was to change the family’s lives forever. Leigh says she will never forget the sound of the chopper landing at Milpark, knowing her burnt child was in it, but not knowing whether he was alive or dead.

The Road Kelvin has Come​

 “It is hard to forget that horrendous ambulance trip from the Barberton crash site to Nelspruit airport. Save for the skill of Kim, ER24’s advanced paramedic Kelvin might not even have made it to the helicopter. Heavily sedated, having had over 6liters of fluid resuscitation, we handed him over the the Medevac team, not knowing if we would ever see him again. To put it in context… using the simplest predictive formula (% body surface area burnt + age) has Kelvin’s expected mortality at over 80%. But I know this boy is a real fighter!” Mark Human, fellow paraglider, friend and doctor-on-scene

Kelvin was admitted to the Milpark hospital – renowned for its exceptional burns unit – in a critical condition with 62% full body burn.

He had a collapsed lung, failing kidneys, was severely dehydrated and hanging onto life by a thread. Plastic surgeons were called in immediately as Kel required extensive debridement before the multiple skin grafts could begin. The amazing team of urologists, pulmonologist, cardiologists, physicians, nursing staff and psychologists worked tirelessly to save Kelvin’s life. He battled sepsis, multiple infections and then pneumonia and will be kept in ICU lockdown for months to come. He is awake after a month-long coma, weak but fighting.

The Road Ahead

“I cannot touch him; my hands are too hot. He is surrounded by ice packs; his room is cool. He is living in the flames. The heater scares him, the lights in the room are too bright, he fears being on his own.”

This brave 21-year-old, who once had a full, exciting life ahead of him, now faces years of grafts, reconstructive surgeries, rehabilitation and psychological therapy. He is afraid of the dark, afraid to be left alone, afraid of the pain and afraid that he may still lose his left leg. He holds ice packs constantly as he is convinced his body is burning and will need to wear compression garments for at least 18 months to keep his wounds soft and aid healing.

Leigh says, “I look at my perfect, carefree, fun loving, good looking, adventurous, witty child, with a future as bright as his smile, and my heart is in pieces. I am living my worst nightmare.

“Kelvin, that free spirit, is imprisoned in his body, in his mind. He is caught in the flames. I cannot touch him; my hands are too hot. He is surrounded by ice packs; his room is cool. He is living in the flames. The heater scares him, the lights in the room are too bright, he fears being on his own.”

He is anxious, he wants to know why? “Why me?” he asks. He will have to find his own truth, a truth that he can live with. He will have to find his “new normal”, because his old normal is no longer.

In a moment, the carefree days of his youth are gone, and in their place, unimaginable pain, suffering and heartache. He now faces a long, horrifying ordeal to come back to his family, to conquer again and continue to live the life he was born to live. We do not know what the future holds for this bright young man, but there is no doubt that he is destined for BIG things.

Kelvin knows what happened and he understands the severity of his wounds. When the doctors expose his wounds, he is awake. Kelvin is a fighter. And he is fighting… fighting to get up and walk, fighting to go home, but most of all he is fighting to soar with the eagles once more.

How YOU can Help

Adventurers understand that risk forms a large part of the activities they undertake. There is a freedom and a liberation that exists where the rewards of an adventure activity outweigh the risks. This is where we feel truly alive – not because we are tempting fate or pushing boundaries – but because we are engaging our body, mind and soul in the activities we were designed for.  

Kelvin’s story speaks to some of our darkest fears. Every time one engages in an adventure activity we trust that the worst will not happen to us. Kelvin is grappling with the reality that it happened to him. Nobody can explain why bad things happen to good people – the only truth is than nobody is immortal, nor immune to accidents.

Kelvin has a very long road ahead in terms of physical and mental recovery. He will need ongoing care and measures that will help him adjust to his new normal. To this end, his parents have set up a trust and bank account through which they invite people to assist in easing the financial burden.

Kelvin also needs emotional support so that he is not overcome by the pain, the isolation, the unanswered questions and the many fears for his future. His fellow sportsmen, particularly those who have lived through hardship and come out the other side have much to offer and are encouraged to reach out to Kelvin and his family.

Kelvin’s Rehabilitation Fund
FNB Norwood    Acc No: 627 763 173 75    Branch Code: 250 655

This Post Has 38 Comments

  1. Wishing you a HAPPY Birthday Kel 😉
    {{{{hugs-on-wings}}}} and much love always

    Thinking of you all the time xxxx
    Tracey, Tanyn and Roelof

  2. Happy Birthday Kelvin. I wish you all the best and a speedy recovery (and that you can have a beer/wine/shot in the next few months). Best wishes Joanne

  3. The most precious memories
    and the happiest moments
    of my life revolve around
    the smiles and laughs of
    just one person –
    Happy birthday my son!
    I hope that the year a head is the beginning of an
    unforgettable journey that will lead you to an even more amazing future.
    Remember to always hope and dream.
    I love you

  4. Happy birthday superman, you are a Hero, keep on getting better x

  5. Happy Birthday Kelvin! Not a minute goes by where we are not thinking of you, routing for you and amazed by you. The progress you have made in your recovery is remarkable, you must be made of seriously strong stuff! I trust your recovery will accelerate as you get stronger and stronger and start to come out of ICU which I hope is soon. All the best Kel, you are truly an unbelievable kid and an inspiration to us all. Svend.

  6. Happy Birthday Kelvin 💕

    Hope you have a splendid day with lots of spoils in Hopsital x

    Praying for a speedy recovery 🔆

    You are a inspiration💛


  7. Happy Birrhday Kelvin 🤗🤗
    Hope you have a wonderfull day and that they will spoil you rotten. You are truly a Hero. 🥞🍨🎂🎂🍰

  8. Happy birthday Hon.

  9. Dear Kelvin, happy bday! I’ve been following your updates after my husband was also in a burn accident 4 years ago. I strongly believe you still have a story to tell! You are truly an inspiration! 🍾🎂🎁🎈

  10. Happy happy birthday Kelvyyy! 💕You are the bravest and most courageous person I have ever met. I hope that you’ll have a great day and be spoilt rotten. May you be blessed with many many more years to come.✨☺️ Keep fighting, you CAN do it !

  11. Happy birthday young man! Its been a tough year, but that is what makes some people legends. They rise above it, and you are good at that;-) Miss the stories of your amazing flights… Get well soon bud, I’ll buy you a dop.

  12. Happy birthday Kel 😊 it seems like just the other day my sister came bouncing home after you asked her to be your girlfriend and now we are here a year later 😱 I wish you many many more happy birthdays 🎂 and hope that we get to see you for the next ones 🤷🏼‍♀️
    Wishing you endless love and laughter and happiness! Have a magical day today 🥳

  13. Happy birthday kelvin!!! I know we’ve never met, but u make robin so unbelievably happy, so you get my approval 😉. I hope your birthday is absolutely amazing and I hope u get spoiled rotten! ❤️Lots of love

  14. Happy happy birthday Kel!!!

    I know your day will be 10x better than imagined because you are surrounded by people who love you. But I also know for certain next year you will get to celebrate properly and you can count me there 😁

    I actually dreamt about you last night. I dreamt Robyn came running to call me and said “look! Kel is walking – walking himself straight out of hospital!” …. that day is coming sooner than you think.

    Happy birthday Kel 💙

    Lots of love

    Clint & Tatiana

  15. Happy birthday Kelvin.
    I have not met you yet but I have heard a lot about you.
    You are an amazing young man with an amazing future.
    You have also got an amazing story.
    I am looking forward to meeting you soon.
    Have a great birthday.

  16. Hey Kelvin, here’s wishing you a Very Happy Birthday today. I hope you are having a super special day and can feel all the positive vibes from all over the world being sent to you today and always.
    Keep on being the fighter that you are and never giving up. Sending lots of love and light your way.
    All our love from Cape Town from Ashley, Sienna and Olivia (Gareth and Mia have sent you their message) ♥️

  17. Hey Kel,
    Happy birthday bru!!!
    I know that ICU is a lake place to spend it but you will be surrounded by people that love you. We down here in slaapstad are waiting to meet the guy who is very quickly becoming a legend. Your strength and determination is truly inspirational. Look after yourself and get out of that place soon so I can shake your hand!! Enjoy all the love and good wishes coming to you from all over!!

  18. Hero Kelvin..
    May you be totally spoiled on this special day.
    Thank You for giving hope to so many…
    You Inspire and We love you!
    Happy Birthday 🎈
    Love Annerie and Hero Burn Foundation

  19. Happy birthday Kel!
    I hope you have an amazing day with family and keep going from strength to strength. ❤️
    I hope you get spoiled rotten!
    You are an incredible man!!
    Sending loads of love!! 🎉🍾

  20. Happy birthday my boy!!!
    Doc and I wish you the most incredible day. Know that we love you and are so frikken proud of you.
    We know that the year ahead is going to be one of great things and we look forward to walking it with you!
    Love you bud and Happy birthday!!
    All our love
    Dee and Doc

  21. Dear Kel
    When Robs met you, I could see by the sparkle in her eyes that she had met someone really special.
    You have already inspired so many people around the world to dig deeper, fight harder and never give up.
    May your birthday be a celebration of your big life, the impact you have already made and many many beautiful memories that are waiting to unfold for you.
    May you continue to be surrounded by love and support as you continue your journey onward and upward.
    You are badass my boy
    Keep up the good work
    You are an absolute inspiration
    So much love

  22. To an incredible young man,
    I hope you have a memorable day with friends and family and that you will keep on fighting!
    Big hugs for the day!

  23. Happy birthday

  24. Happy birthday Kel! So wonderful to hear your voice again.
    You are truly amazing and you know that you’ve got this beaten.
    Sending you heaps and heaps od hugs and loads of love from across the oceans.
    PS: Let me know when you’re up for one of my lasagne’s and chocolate cake

  25. Happy birthday Kelvin from the Andersons @ number 5

  26. Happy birthday to you Kel!! ♥️

    For over 10 months now, I’ve watched you every day in absolute awe of how you’ve overcome every massive obstacle thrown at you. You are a true inspiration and I think it’s safe to say that I’m the proudest girlfriend in the world ♥️

    I hope that the year to come makes all your wishes come true.

    Happy birthday Kel ♥️

  27. Happy birthday brave heart.!!!
    You are a fighter never giving up. Keep on fighting the good fight you’ve got this in the bag.
    May your day be a special one, shared with your loved ones, friends , family and support crew.
    See ya soon

  28. Have a special day, Kel, surrounded by the many special people that love you.
    We have been watching, praying and waiting for your healing since the beginning of your journey.
    You have such an exciting and wonderful life still ahead of you, so much to live and give!
    We, in turn, have been so blessed and inspired by knowing you, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY!🎉🎡🎈

    Love and hugs, Kellie, Emma and Kate

  29. Happy 22nd Birthday Kelvin. You are such an amazing young man. When life seems tough we just think of you and what an inspiration you are and you give us all the motivation we need. We know that there are many many more wonderful birthdays with great memories lying ahead of you. Keep up the good fight and you are always in our thoughts and prayers. Love Layton and the Hedges family

  30. Happy Happy 22nd Birthday Kelvin! I truly believe the “double digit” years are magical ones! Wishing you all the magic of miracles, love, and healing in your 22nd year! You are forever in our thoughts and prayers and we will continue to send you love and believe in the power of positivity, faith and prayer. We love you xxx Happy birthday my boy xxx All our love, as always, your cuzzies from down under, Tania and Chad xxx

  31. Happy birthday Kelvin. I hope you have an 🎂 amazing day with all your family around you. 🎉 You have come so far this year with all the ups and downs. We are so proud of you. Keep up the 🥳 progress and get strong. There is a whole life out there to be lived. All the best Kel from Granny Anderson

  32. Happy birthday Kel and God bless you and give you His strength as you have fought this long fight so far. Blessings Chris and Shirl

  33. Happy birthday, Kelvin! May there be less pain and more fun and happiness in the near future. And lots of laughter and love forever. Love and good thoughts from Laura.

  34. Wishing you a blessed birthday! Praying for and thinking of you since the start of your difficult journey xx

  35. Happy birthday bro! Hopefully we will be able to see you soon to celebrate!
    Always thinking about you. Stay strong!

  36. Best wishes Kelvin!! Praying for you and sending so much love and healing! May all be blessed x x x

  37. Happy birthday Kelvin!

  38. Happy Belated Birthday Kelvin

    A true warrior and hero. You have come so far and shown us all what a true champion is. You have fought so hard through this journey.

    I hope you had a wonderful day

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